What I bought - 4 December 2013

"How strange it is. We have these deep terrible lingering fears about ourselves and the people we love. Yet we walk around, talk to people, eat and drink. We manage to function. The feelings are deep and real. Shouldn't they paralyze us? How is it we can survive them, at least for a while? We drive a car, we teach a class. How is it no one sees how deeply afraid we were, last night, this morning? Is it something we all hide from each other, by mutual consent? Or do we share the same secret without knowing it? Wear the same disguise." (Don DeLillo, from White Noise)

Catalyst Comix #6 (of 9) by Joe Casey (writer), Ulises Farina (artist, "Agents of Change"), Paul Maybury (artist, "Amazing Grace"), Dan McDaid (artist, "The Ballad of Frank Wells"), Brad Simpson (colorist), Rus Wooton (letterer), and Brendan Wright (editor). $2.99, 28 pgs, FC, Dark Horse. Amazing Grace, Frank Wells, and Agents of Change created by Barbara Kesel.

The way Casey has structured this comic is unusual. In case you don't know, each character (or, in the case of the Agents of Change, group) gets the "lead" story for three issues, and then rotates to the back of the book, where their story essentially continues. The first three issues featured Frank Wells in the "main" story, and the next three - concluding this issue - is Amazing Grace's turn. But their plots still continue in the second and third places, but I guess they're not as important? Frank Wells's story definitely feels a bit muted, as in the first three issues, he dealt with aliens and invasions and that stuff, while in the next three, he's been on some kind of spirit quest. It appears that Casey is trying to link all of these stories in some way, making this a mini-Seven Soldiers of Victory kind of thing. This will be very interesting to read when it's all done, because I'm curious if Casey really does plan to link all of these, even subtly, and if so, how he will. Grace's and Frank's stories seem a bit more similar, while the Agents of Change have been beating bad guys up and dancing (see below), but they're getting the "lead" story for issues #7-9, so we'll see.

This continues to be an odd, old-school kind of superhero book, even though Casey insisted that he was pushing the genre forward. Maybe he meant he was pushing it forward by embracing the inherent goofiness of superhero comics, because this is plenty goofy. That doesn't make it bad, you understand, but Casey has always embraced the inherent goofiness of superhero comics, so the fact that he's doing it here isn't too big a surprise. His narration addresses the reader, for instance, which used to be pretty standard during the Marvel Age, but now is done somewhat sardonically. Casey's tone is the same as Lee's back in the day, however, so it comes off as charming and even a bit conspiratorial, as if he's sharing a secret with the audience that only they are privy to. As always, Casey is far more interested in breaking out of the standard superhero trope of punching things to make them better, so while the book might feel a bit different than a lot of the comics that come out today, it doesn't feel too different from the kind of comics Casey has been writing for over a decade. Still, it has really nice art, the colors pop very well, and it feels like a comic from the olden days, when superhero comics weren't quite so concerned with being "realistic" and "adult." It's just a cool trip, man. Ain't nothing wrong with that.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Deadpool #20 ("Wakandan Vacation!") by Gerry Duggan (writer), Scott Koblish (artist), Brian Posehn (writer), Joe Sabino (letterer), Val Staples (colorist), and Jordan D. White (editor). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, Marvel. Deadpool created by Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld. Cable created by Louise Simonson and Rob Liefeld. Uatu, Mangog, Ben Grimm, Fin Fang Foom, Ruler of the Earth, and Odin created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Duggan and Posehn give us another "inventory" issue, as they place Deadpool in 1968 this time. It's actually clever, because after the events of the previous arc, it's good to get a sillier story, and Deadpool himself tells us on the recap page that he's pretty bummed out about what happened in North Korea and he's just not in the mood. I mentioned that I thought the tonal shift in the last arc was so severe that it didn't feel right, and I still think that Duggan and Posehn need to sort it out a bit better and bring back some balance. This issue doesn't quite do that, because it is an "inventory" story, but it's still a very good single issue. It's not quite as good as the 1970s issue, which was a bit funnier (but feels a bit tainted because of where it led), but it's still very good.

Duggan and Posehn send Deadpool to Wakanda in 1968 after some time-traveling, and of course bad and crazy things happen. The story makes no sense whatsoever (it involves cosmic poop, unfortunately, as the ending of the issue is a bit dumber than the rest of it), but that's okay, because it's all about the jokes, and the writers are quite funny in this one. Deadpool cracks about the Comics Code no longer being in effect, which means he can make sex jokes (see below), but there's also just something inherently funny about the Marvel Monsters like Mangog and Fin Fang Foom. I know they're supposed to be serious threats, but even before Nextwave, there was something silly about Fin Fang Foom. So Posehn and Duggan have fun with them, with Uatu, with Ben Grimm, and with Odin. Everything zips along nicely.

Like the 1970s issue, however, most of the credit for making this a good issue has to go to Koblish, who has been killing these "inventory" issues and the art styles needed to make them look era-specific. He channels Kirby almost as well as Tom Scioli, who drew the cover, does. Visually, the book is packed, and Koblish and Val Staples turn it into a feast for the eyes, as Koblish gives us all sorts of wild creatures and Staples's Day-Glo coloring makes them all pop right off the page. There's Kirby Krackle and Benday dots galore, and Koblish does a superb job of making sure that, as cluttered as the book is, it's still very readable. He has the way panels were used down well, too - in one, Deadpool mentions that he needs an "old-school close-up" of his eyes because he's going to say something important. I imagine that Duggan and Posehn had something to do with that, but Koblish does other things that evoke the 1960s beyond just the art style. And in the final two panels, Odin transports him to the 1990s, and Koblish does a nice job aping Liefeld's original design for Deadpool. I do hope there's another "inventory" issue that takes place in the 1990s coming up at some point. That would be pretty neat.

I still think Duggan and Posehn need to balance the book's tone in the main plot a bit more, but if they're going to do so dark in the primary narrative, at least we get these fun side trips. Like the 1970s "inventory" issue, you can read this on its own, which is nice. So check it out!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Detective Comics #26 ("Crown of Fear") by Blond (colorist), Jared K. Fletcher (letterer), John Layman (writer), Aaron Lopresti (penciller), Art Thibert (inker), Katie Kubert (associate editor), and Mike Marts (editor). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC. Batman and Jim Gordon created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane. Man-Bat and Francine Langstrom created by Frank Robbins and Neal Adams. Alfred Pennyworth created by Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson, and Bob Kane.

Layman's run on Detective is almost over, which is good not because I don't like what's he done on the book but because DC ditched the back-up stories and they're inching closer to 20 pages for 4 dollars, which is ridiculous. I hope they won't get there unti issue #30, because that's the first issue of the new creative team (and yes, I like the new creative team, but I can get those issue in trade paperback, which is usually better priced).

The last time I saw Layman, I forgot to ask him why he's so in love with Man-Bat, but look, it's a Man-Bat story ... again! (I imagine some of it is editorially mandated, but I'm not sure how much of it is Mike Marts and Dan DiDio loving Man-Bat and Layman loving Man-Bat.) It's not a bad Man-Bat story, although it's a bit annoying that Francine has become the "evil" Man-Bat while Kirk is the noble one - for some reason, that just strikes me as wrong, as I could make a case for it being kind of sexist. I like that Layman is trying to make both of them more complex and human even though they both keep turning into giant bats, but it still feels like Francine is getting the short end of the stick here. I get that DC has reworked her origin so she's not the old Francine, which mitigates it a bit because her human persona is a bit more evil than the old Francine, and maybe it's because Layman has tried hard to make Kirk more sympathetic, and it's reflecting badly on Francine. Whatever. It's just weird. Anyway, Francine goes a bit nutty and thinks she's a real bat, and Bats and Kirk need to take her down. Like the rest of Layman's run, these are well done adventure stories with some redemptive power - it's nice to see a slightly kinder Batman in this comic, because Batman ought to be about helping people as much as he is about punishing the bad guys. Plus, detective skills! Yay, detective skills!

Lopresti is a good artist, but his art in this issue is a bit odd, and I can't quite put my finger on why. He and Thibert are a bit too slick to work on Batman, I think, but that's not it because Jason Fabok is a bit slick, too, and his work on the book has been better. I do think Fabok, despite his limitations with faces, does add a bit more definition to those faces, and Lopresti's characters look a bit more plastic. Lopresti is also a bit too good at superheroes for Batman, so that the book's art tone clashes a bit with the writing tone, as Layman's story - while ultimately not depressing - feels a bit sadder than Lopresti's clean lines make it feel. I don't know if that makes any sense, but there it is. Lopresti has always been good drawing bright costumed people beating each other up, and he doesn't quite get the emotional struggle that Kirk is going through in this issue. When Francine comes into the light, she looks a bit too supervillainy and not quite horror-movie enough. I know in today's comics world, glossy paper and digital art make it harder to give the book a rough look, but Lopresti's style certainly doesn't help.

I don't know what's going on in the final panel, as it appears Catwoman is grumpy that Batman didn't take her out to fight and she's dressed like Robin for some reason. I don't know if that's a reference to something that's going on in other books or if it will be explained in the next story arc, "Gothtopia," but it's weird. Alfred and Bruce don't look surprised that she's there, which is why I think it has something to do with what's going on in other books. Who knows, though.

Detective still seems to be flying under the radar, which is too bad. Layman's run hasn't been unbelievably good, but it's been solid stuff, and I hope he ends it well. That would be nice.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Elephantmen #52 ("Picking Up the Pieces Part 2 of 5: House of Pain") by Axel Medellin (artist) and Richard Starkings (writer/letterer). $3.99, 24 pgs, FC, Image.

Richard Starkings really puts a lot into each issue of Elephantmen (which remains, despite the presence of that critical darling, the best science fiction book in the American comics scene) - in each issue, he usually reminds us how horrible the corporation that created the transgenics really was, but he does so in different ways so that it never becomes stale. In this issue, he reminds us that they basically enslaved African women and then let them die horribly just to breed the elephantmen - he's done this before, but this time, he sends his characters into a museum, where the docent can quote H. G. Wells and be creepy. (I love the word "docent." It's usually used in a very specific example of a guide at a museum, and I love words that are used only in specific instances. Yes, I'm weird. Deal with it.) Starkings, however, usually does a nice job moving the plot forward, and he does so here, as Hip Flask and Jack Farrell continue the investigation they began last issue. There are some interesting clues dropped, but not so much that Hip and Farrell can figure things out. And then there's Farrell's dead girlfriend, who's haunting him. Farrell is wracked with guilt over her death and pregnancy, which ties back into the pregnancies of the women whom Mappo used to breed the elephantmen. And, just for fun, there's some fisticuffs. Yay, fisticuffs! Starkings is really good at keeping every plot thread going and still making the book at least somewhat accessible to new readers (if any happen to pick this up), and it makes for a nice dense reading experience.

Medellin, as usual, does a great job, although he doesn't have too much to do. He does a superb job in the early pages, when Farrell is hallucinating about Scarlet strapped into one of the incubators that Mappo used. We can see what's coming, but Medellin's precise lines and luminous coloring makes it more ethereal and therefore horrifying. I love the softness of Medellin's art in this book - it probably wouldn't work in all books or with all artists, but because Medellin's line is so clean, the digital coloring helps suffuse everything with what looks like artificial light, which seems appropriate for the 23rd century and for an environmentally ravaged Los Angeles. When Medellin has to draw something in more natural light, his crisp lines help, but when he's doing the work inside, he's able to soften everything and light it in what almost looks like an unnatural way, so that it's clear we're in a place with a lot of fluorescent lighting. I don't always like it when there's too much glowing in comics, but the way Medellin uses it is quite good.

Of course Elephantmen is good! That's not surprising at all!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight #3 (of eight) ("Prison Ship Antares Part One") by Alex de Campi (writer/letterer), Simon Fraser (artist/colorist), Victoria Lau (colorist), Ian Tucker (assistant editor), and Brendan Wright (editor). $3.99, 24 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

I don't really want to see female nipples in comics (I don't NOT want to see female nipples in comics, either; it's just not something I think about when I buy a comic), but I do wonder about the mesmerizing power of the nipple. It's just a nipple, people. The sexualization of breasts is an interesting phenomenon, and I love looking at naked women as much as anyone, but I do think the nipple needs to be depowered somewhat. There has to be some kind of weird infantilizing thing going on with nipples and the reaction of uptight people to them. It seems that uptight people are upset about nipples because somehow they're functional, as if the reminder that we all used to suck on them when we were babies will make us want to suck on them when we're adults. Sucking on nipples isn't the worst thing in the world, so I'm not sure why it's such a big deal. There is, unfortunately, an inability of people (a lot of Americans, sure, but people everywhere) to separate anything from sexual thoughts. I blame monotheistic religion, but you can blame a lot of other things, too. So anything that might be sexual on a woman or man becomes something that can never be seen outside of the bedroom. Even in these heathen, end-of-days days, people are still squeamish about sex. And so they're squeamish about the human body.

I bring this up, of course, because the latest issue of Grindhouse is a variation on the old "women's prison" story, as de Campi puts the women's prison in space, headed for Antares. This is actually clever - it's modeled after England's policy to ship all their criminals to Australia, and de Campi points out that interplanetary travel is so dangerous and long that the only people willing to do it are, in fact, not that willing. So, it's a women's prison story, which means, of course, a lot of women. And, because de Campi is deliberately writing this in as exploitative a style as she can, it means lots of naked women. On the second page of this comic (well, the second and third pages, because it's a double-page spread), one of the women moons the reader while she's standing in the shower. That means there are four clearly-defined asses in the scene, but no nipples. One of the women implies - very unsubtly - that the character mooning us has had a lot of anal sex. In other words, this is not even close to a comic you'd sell to impressionable children who might be traumatized by nipples. Yet, no nipples. This comic, I might add, features a character getting bathed in acid and eaten away, and Simon Fraser (who has to be feeling pretty old by now, given that he was born in 1776) lovingly draws her face disintegrating. Later, a character gets a hot poker in the eye, and we see it all. Dark Horse isn't DC or Marvel, where they pretend to care that kids might read their comics. Dark Horse should be more like Image, allowing quite a bit more and making sure the book is labeled "for mature readers" (even though I have issues with that, too, but now's not the time). I don't get why ass and gore is fine, but nipples and labia aren't. Last week, I thought the nudity in Pretty Deadly and Saga was gratuitous, because it added nothing to the story. In "Prison Ship Antares," the lack of nipples actually distracts from the story, because it's so obviously done. It's all about context!

There's also that hot poker in the eye. I've never stabbed anyone in the eye with a hot poker or anything else, nor have I been stabbed in the eye with anything, nor have I ever witnessed anyone getting stabbed in the eye with something. I think writers are a bit cavalier with it, though. Why would that person still be alive? I know that people get weird shit embedded in their heads and never notice it, but I would think a scalding hot poker inserted into an eye socket up to what looks like five or six inches would do some major damage, meaning it would kill you. Now, maybe - just maybe - it wouldn't kill you. According the brain diagrams I found on yonder Internets, the temporal lobe is right behind the eye. The temporal lobe controls visual memories, sensory input, comprehending language, emotion, and deriving meaning. If this is severely damaged, wouldn't you like to see the effects in the character? I will bet the only thing wrong with the character next issue is that her eye is gone. I just don't buy the lack of damage that she sustains. Plus, I don't care how tough you are, if you get a hot poker in the eye, you're going to scream bloody murder, even if you claim your torturer "ain't worth it," as the character does in this comic. I know I'm overthinking this, but one of the problems I have with violence in popular culture is not that there's too much of it, but writers don't seem to consider the effects of it. I know the human body can endure a lot of punishment, so I guess I can buy that the character wouldn't be dead (it's a stretch, but okay), but it would be nice if she were a bit more affected by it.

Anyway, de Campi plays with the stereotypes of a women's prison story, and it's brutal and occasionally hilarious and there's ample opportunity for revenge. I'm wondering how the people who launched the ship, if they indeed want to populate another world, plan to do that with only women, but maybe there's a men's prison ship headed to Antares as well. It doesn't really matter - this is all about women banding together to defeat their evil overseer. There will be more mayhem next issue, I presume.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Indestructible Hulk Annual #1 ("Journey into Science") by Mahmud Asrar (artist), Nelson Daniel (colorist), Jeff Parker (writer), Cory Petit (letterer), Emily Shaw (assistant editor), and Mark Paniccia (editor). $4.99, 30 pgs, FC, Marvel. Bruce Banner created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Tony Stark created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, and Jack Kirby. Maria Hill created by Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch. Randall Jessup and Patricia Wolman created by Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu.

I decided to drop 5 bucks on the Hulk Annual even though I moaned about the Deadpool Annual and this is essentially the same length for the same price. I still wish "Annuals" meant something more than "slightly longer regular issue," but such is the way of the world. If Marvel wants me to buy their comics, putting Jeff Parker and Mahmud Asrar on one is not a bad trick. Of course, they'd just charge 4 bucks for 20 pages and piss me right off again, but for one issue, it was a good strategy!

Parker writes a straight-forward "mad scientist" story, which is always fun. Back in the day, a young Bruce Banner and a young Tony Stark attended a conference together run by a Dr. Zadian, and the good doctor mentioned that military technology was the way to go, because you could always get funding. When Bruce wonders what happens if they don't want to build bombs, Dr. Zadian mocks him. Man, that's harsh. (It's also hilarious that Tony doesn't remember Bruce being at the conference even though they sat next to each other, because that's such a perfectly douchey Tony Stark thing.) Years later, they're trying to track down Zadian for S.H.I.E.L.D., and if you're not sure if Zadian turns out to be eeeeevil ... well, you probably haven't read many comics or seen much pop culture. While it's not surprising that Zadian is the bad guy, Parker is clever enough to make his actual scheme interesting and a challenge - for a bit - to Tony and Bruce. Parker is very good at characterization, so he lets the story unfold slowly while the two men chat, and although it's nothing too earth-shattering, it sets up the climax quite well.

I've been a fan of Asrar's for years, and I'm very happy that he's found work doing superhero comics, because his style is very well suited to it. I wish he drew comics I want to read, but when he does draw those rare issues, I find myself digging his work all over again. He does really nice work here - the monsters he designs are weird and horrifying, his Iron Man armor actually looks like armor (which isn't always the case), his Hulk is big without looking like he's been taking too many steroids, and his fight scenes are always well done. He balances the reality of two dudes hanging out with absurdity of the big volcano where Zadian has his stronghold, which helps sell the silliness better. Asrar has always been good at faces, so the first scene of young Bruce and young Tony at the seminar works very well, as does the scene on the boat when Bruce has to tell Patricia Wolman that she's not going to the island. Daniel's coloring works well on the book, too, as it's one of the recent examples where oversaturation of blue and orange works, as the water around the island should be bright and deep (it's in the South Pacific, after all), so it adds a nice unreality to everything. The art is tremendous on the book, and it helps when Asrar gets to draw an interesting story.

It would be nice to see these two creators on a book together, but for now, we get a nice, solid superhero story from them. As with all recent Marvel Annuals, I'm not sure why this gets to be called that unless it's just because it's not the regular creative team, but it's a fun single-issue story, and there's nothing wrong with that!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard volume 2 #4 (of 4) by Justin Gerard (artist, "The Timber Mice"), Cliff Monear (music, "The Timber Mice"), David Petersen (writer/artist, framing story), Jackson Sze (writer/artist, "Back & Forth"), Brad Thomte (colorist/letterer, "The Veteran"), Bill Willingham (writer/artist, "The Veteran"), Paul Morrissey (editor), and Rebecca Taylor (managing editor). $3.50, 27 pgs, FC, Archaia.

David Petersen and company finish up another edition of Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard, and there's never a lot to say about it. Petersen gets talented creators to tell short stories, and they're almost always enjoyable. It's always interesting to see Willingham draw something, and his story is a clever one about a mouse outwitting a cat. The second story, by Jackson Sze, is beautifully painted and features a guard accompanying a cartographer as he tries to figure out a good passage through the wilderness. It's a rousing adventure, and it looks great. Finally, we get a short song about a mouse couple who want children so badly they carve mice out of wood. I don't have a piano or I would have played the tune, but it looks nice. As usual, all of the stories are framed by Petersen's tale of pub patrons spinning yarns to get out of paying their bills. It's always a nice collection of stories and artwork, and if it gives Petersen some time to work on the next installment of the main narrative, that's a good thing. I just don't have much else to say.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Omega Comics Presents volume 2 #2 by JD Faith (artist, "San Hannibal Chapter One"), Christine Larsen (artist/letterer, "Sweet Dreams"), Russell Lissau (writer, "Sweet Dreams"), Dan Schkade (writer, "San Hannibal Chapter One"), Jesse Snavlin (letterer, "San Hannibal Chapter One"), and Pj Perez (editor). $4.99, 29 pgs, FC, Pop! Goes the Icon.

Pj Perez likes sending me his comics, and I like reviewing them, because they're usually pretty good. He publishes a bunch of anthologies, which means that some of the stories might be spotty but also means there's more of a chance that something might stick. Plus, he manages to publish books that feel denser than your average DC or Marvel book, so although this is the same length and price as the Hulk Annual, it feels like you're getting your money's worth (even though, as I pointed out, I liked the Hulk Annual). Perez's contributors can, not surprisingly, take some more chances that creators for the Big Two can, so we get stuff like "San Hannibal," which on the surface is a fairly typical hard-boiled P. I. story but feels deeper because Schkade is able to be a bit stranger than he might if he wrote this for DC or Marvel, while Faith's art definitely would not fit in at the Big Two.

"San Hannibal" features Avery (is it is first name? his last name? NO MAN CAN SAY!), a private investigator hired by a woman who runs a free clinic to find a missing journalist. Said journalist, Savannah Loy, is a social crusader in a city - San Hannibal, in California - that seems to need one. Avery takes the case and tracks her to a small club - Schkade uses a great line to describe it, "It's one of those places where it's always nine thirty on a Saturday night," which is perfect both as a descriptor and as something a hard-boiled P. I. would say - and discovers some seedy characters. A dude whose photo was in Savannah's apartment threatens him. Two well-dressed strangers intervene, and the small woman (the other is a reedy man) beats the crap out of the dude. Avery meets the lead singer of the band Savannah was going to see and manages to intrigue her by saying a key word. And, somewhat unfortunately, the specter of politics haunts the entire story, which makes me believe that this is going to have something to do with the mayoral candidate. It's not the worst way for the story to go, but I'm always a bit disappointed when corrupt politicians are involved in a mystery. But that's not apparent yet, and what we have is a good start to a mystery.

Faith, meanwhile, takes Schkade's good script and turns it into a neon pulp nightmare. First of all, the entire story is colored in pink and black and white, which you might think will make your eyes explode but turns out to be a brilliant decision, as it adds a veneer of luridness to everything and makes San Hannibal so much worse of a place than it appears just from the way the characters talk about it. Faith's style also fits the color scheme - it's cartoony but not overly so, and he tends to use more angular lines rather than curves, so the city is even harsher than we'd expect from a different artist. Faith doesn't complete go without curves, so when he does use them, it effectively works against the stringent lines of the city. Plus, he brings the locations to seedy life, which is always crucial in a good noir tale. This is a very cool-looking comic, and it complements Schkade's terse script very well.

The back-up story is a typical monster story that offers no real surprises, but it's not bad. Larsen's cartoony art makes it slightly more horrific, but it's still pretty forgettable. However, it's cool to see such a difference in style compared to the first story. Again, the anthology format allows this, and it's nice that Perez and his contributors take advantage of it.

I'm sure Perez would be happy to sell this comic to you at the Pop! Goes the Icon web site. I've always liked his comics, but this one stands a bit higher than the rest. I hope the next chapter comes out soon!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Trillium #5 (of eight) ("Starcrossed") by Jeff Lemire (writer/artist/colorist), Carlos M. Mangual (letterer), José Villarrubia (colorist), Sara Miller (assistant editor), and Mark Doyle (editor). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Lemire once again messes with the single-issue format, confounding those people who are waiting for the trade. It's going to be hard to read issue #1 in trade, and it's going to be hard to read issue #5, as the top half tells Nika's story, and then you flip the book over and read the bottom half, which tells William's story. Bwah-ha-ha-ha! Yes, it's a gimmick, but it works because Lemire cleverly mirrors the two stories, so that occasionally things sync up, like when they have memories of the First World War (William's actual world war, and Nika's somewhat unusual world war) or when they flash back to their actual lives. The page layouts are exactly the same, too, so the entire book feels balanced. It's a clever gimmick, even though it's a gimmick.

After last issue, when the world seemed to end, we catch up with our principals. Nika and William have switched places, as Nika now lives on a 1920s Earth where history has changed somewhat, while William is in Nika's future with his brother, still trying to figure out how to stop the Caul. Obviously, something odd is going on, and Lemire continues to drop hints about it, especially in William's "world." Both characters are aware that something is seriously wrong with them, but they can't quite figure out what it is. At the end of each of their stories, they begin to remember, but that still doesn't help them get back to their realities. It's well done by Lemire, as he slowly leads both characters to their realizations without pushing too hard. It's a very well-paced issue. Plus, Lemire continues to impress on the artwork. His style means that both realities are slightly clunky, which makes them more relatable - the future isn't as sleek as we would expect, which fits in well with the apocalyptic tenor of that part of the story, while Nika's steampunk-ish reality isn't as refined as we would expect, which helps show that all is not perfect there, either. I get that Lemire is an acquired taste, art-wise, but it works surprisingly well in a story like this.

Trillium continues to be a superb comic, and I'm looking forward to the final three issues as Lemire brings it all together. I'm also curious to see what other storytelling gimmicks he can pull out of his hat!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Velvet #2 ("Before the Living End Part Two") by Elizabeth Breitweiser (colorist), Ed Brubaker (writer), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer), and Steve Epting (artist). $2.99, 21 pgs, FC, Image.

All right, let's get it out of the way right now. Velvet's premise - that Miss Moneypenny was really a highly trained secret agent in her own right - is ludicrous. It's actually more ludicrous because Brubaker wants to set this in 1973 and wants to make it as "real" as possible - the idea that British Intelligence would train a woman as a secret agent in the 1940s (just how the hell old is Velvet, anyway?) makes no sense at all. However, if we ignore the fact that Brubaker really tries to pretend that this is "real," Velvet is, after two issues, a hell of a fun comic. Brubaker, like in many of his comics, takes a well-trod genre and tells the story really well - when you're reading Velvet, nothing in it makes you think, "Holy crap, I've never seen anything like this before!" but almost all of it makes you think, "Damn, this dude can really tell a story." In this issue, Brubaker gives us a bit more background on Velvet, and he introduces some higher-ups who obviously know more about her than poor Roberts. This is basically an issue of Velvet getting away after being compromised last issue, and Roberts getting some, but not all, of her history. In the end, she's in the wind and the higher-ups have a problem. Brubaker tells the story with no fat - he just gets to it and wastes no time. Even Velvet's internal narration is terse and to the point. Brubaker understands that when you're telling a story like this, it's important to hit the ground running, so while I assume Velvet and the others will become more complex characters along the way, right now the storytelling is as lean as it gets. Velvet certainly alludes to things that the reader doesn't know about, but for right now, that's all it is. It's more important to get the plot kick-started, and Brubaker certainly does that.

It helps to have Epting doing such good work on the comic, of course. His Stacy London-as-secret agent thing is interesting, certainly, and he really does a nice job moving Velvet through the story. Brubaker has become so synonymous with Sean Phillips over the years that seeing Epting draw this is actually a bit strange, because his style is more fluid than Phillips's, giving the book a sleeker look and a more action-oriented feel. Epting's smooth lines make London look more like a mod town and less like a urban wasteland, and the chase scene through the streets is choreographed very well. The panel below is very well done, because it's the first time that Velvet allows herself to show any emotion, and even that's just for a moment. Epting and Breitweiser drench the book in darkness, which I hope won't be too prevalent going forward, but that's the way it is. Breitweiser eases back a little on the blue/orange complement and gives us more purple, which is far better suited for an nighttime urban area, so that's cool. I know why this comic (and many others) are so dark, but I don't always like it. That's a minor complaint, though, because the book looks very good.

Brubaker doesn't come around here much anymore, but he used to get mad at me because I always described his comics as less than ground-breaking, but always solid. I hate to do it with Velvet, but that's what it is. The fact that Brubaker tends to write these kinds of books better than almost anyone in comics is why they're so good, so I don't know what the big deal is. He does what he does and he does it really well. There's nothing wrong with that!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Young Avengers #13 ("Young Avengers Part Two") by Clayton Cowles (letterer), Kieron Gillen (writer), Jamie McKelvie (artist), Mike Norton (artist), Stephen Thompson (artist), Matthew Wilson (colorist), Jon Moison (assistant editor), and Lauren Sankovitch (editor). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, Marvel. Kate Bishop, Billy Kaplan, Teddy Altman, and Patriot created by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung. Noh-Varr created by Grant Morrison and J. G. Jones. America Chavez created by Joe Casey and Nick Dragotta. Loki created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby. David Alleyne created by Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir, and Keron Grant. Alex Power created by Louise Simonson and June Brigman.

Gillen's massive "Mother" story probably couldn't help being anti-climactic, and it is, but with Gillen, it's rarely about the ending of the plot, it's much more about the journey, and as cheesy as the ending of this story might be if you hadn't read the previous 12 issues, coming at the end of a year-long odyssey, Gillen earns the cheesiness because he's just that good at such things. Man, that was a long sentence, wasn't it? Anyway, the Young Avengers figure out how to defeat Mother, because of course they do, but the way they defeat them is what's important, and it's why the comic is the best series Marvel published this year. Yes, Gillen might have not dragged* it out quite so long, but he needed to make it this long because of all the subtle stuff he was doing with the characters, like Noh-Varr and Loki, for instance. In fact, the one complaint I have about this series is that it's fairly important that you read Gillen's Journey into Mystery, which, yes, is something Marvel would like you to do and which used to be more easily done, but in today's world is a bit dangerous to assume people to have done. Gillen has Loki explain it in a few panels, but it makes less sense if you haven't read the previous book. Such is life, I guess, but it's still kind of vexing.

* In the world of bad English, the latest thing to really bother me is people using "drug" as the past tense of "dragged," as in, "After I killed her, I drug her into the back yard and buried her." I want to punch those people, but I fear I'll end up being the next person to be "drug" into the back yard and buried.

Anyway, Gillen only deserves part of the praise, as McKelvie finally gets to draw something other than characters against a white background. When Billy finally is able to do what he needs to do, McKelvie is able to cut loose again, and while the big double-page spread is something that doesn't take a lot of actual new drawing by McKelvie, it's still a very cool scene, and coming on the heels of the previous two pages, it really hits home. I love the way McKelvie draws this book, because it's still him doing his thing but it's also him growing even further, and it's impressive that he's doing some of the stuff in the comic.

The creators wrap up the run with two issues of partying, apparently, and not all of it will be drawn by McKelvie. There's still a mystery to clear up, and it would be nice if Gillen spent some time with Miss America, who has been the weakest character in the entire run, but it's nice that Gillen finished the big plot this way, because it's always cool to see something positive instead of aggressive. Young Avengers is a tremendous comic, and I'm glad I got to read it.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Archer & Armstrong volume 3: Far Faraway by David Baron (colorist), Simon Bowland (letterer), Clayton Henry (artist), Dave Lanphear (letterer), Pere Pérez (artist) Fred van Lente (writer), Josh Johns (assistant editor), and Warren Simons (executive editor). $14.99, 124 pgs, FC, Valiant. Archer and Armstrong created by Jim Shooter, Bob Layton, and Barry Windsor-Smith.

In honor of Fred van Lente Day, I'll write that I still like this comic more than any other that Valiant has put out in their revamp. It's a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to reading this.


I could write about some stuff that's been going on in the world, but it's getting late and I haven't posted this yet, so I'll just note that Mike Sterling celebrated 10 years of blogging this week. Dang, that's impressive. Progressive Ruin was one of the first blogs I read regularly, and I'm almost certain I started reading either just after his first anniversary or just before it. He's also one of the bloggers I've actually met, and he's a hell of a nice guy. Congratulations, Mike!

I fired up the iPod again this week, so here, once again, are the Ten Most Recent Songs on My iPod (Which Is Always on Shuffle):

1. "Ode to a Life" - Mary's Danish (1992) "With miles still to fall my voice is screaming out"2. "The War Is Over" - Kelly Clarkson (2011) "This is not my surrender, I'm not running for cover"3. "Arlandria" - Foo Fighters (2011) "Use me up, spit me out, let me be your hand-me-down"4. "Without You" - Asia (1982) "We must keep moving while the light is clearing, leaving your dark world behind you"5. "P. S." - James (1993) "You liar, you liar, all your words are just dust in moonshine"6. "Anytime" - Journey (1978) "Give me all of your sunshine, a spark is all I need"7. "Deconstruction" - Indigo Girls (2002) "And as for the truth, it seems like we just pick a theory"8. "Aqualung" - Jethro Tull (1971) "You poor old sod, you see, it's only me"9. "Moving Targets" - Fish (2003) "The weak and the woeful get what they deserve"10. "Vervaceous" - James (1999) "Falling in between the lines, never fitting in"

I also decided to throw some Totally Random Lyrics at you. Those are always fun!

"Breakin' rappers in half by the ass is my only taskGold and platinum plaques will pass, only talent will lastI come to the party prepared to kick assYou come to the party well prepared then get scaredYou're through and need stitching up, you and your crew start bitching upWhere you gonna live around where I'm not stompin' it?I really believe you're a wee bit over confident"

That's an easy one, right? I know it is!

I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend!

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